“Cold, Cold Heart,” the story-driven DLC for 2013’s “Batman: Arkham Origins” reminds me of everything that frustrated me about the most disappointing game of last year. No one wanted to love “Origins” more than I did and I’m still wildly anticipating the franchise’s PS4 debut with “Batman: Arkham Knight” later this year. I adored “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and if it weren’t for that AWFUL glitch that forced thousands of gamers to lose their save game files with an update, “Batman: Arkham City” would have competed for Game of the Year. It was a masterfully designed experience, perfectly balancing action and storytelling with the best melee gameplay, well, maybe ever. And yet “Origins” sank. It offered more repetitive gameplay, feeling almost like deleted scenes from the last game. It got better as it went along but that sinking sensation that it wasn’t going to live up to our expectations poisoned the well. And that poison returned when I started playing “Cold, Cold Heart.”
It should prove how much I love this series that I was excited enough to hear that “Cold, Cold Heart” was being released for the PS3 that I put it on my personal calendar. Gamers are a resilient bunch. You can burn us with a disappointing game and we’ll still anticipate what comes next. “Arkham Origins” was such a throwaway game that the developers of “Arkham Knight” recently referred to their game as part of a trilogy (which means they’re ignoring “Origins” even exists). So this is DLC that expands a game that most of the people involved in this franchise have forgotten. But it’s cheap ($10), gives players three hours of superhero action at the time of year when caped heroes couldn’t be more popular, and primes the pump for “Arkham Knight.” As long as you approach it with that context, it’s not the worst way you could spend three hours on a rainy April day. However, it’s not the best way to spend your PSN credit either.
Perhaps I was kind of psyched for “Cold, Cold Heart” because I love the bad guy—the fun Mr. Freeze, a character made laughable by Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Batman & Robin” but redeemed by being generally awesome in “Batman: The Animated Series”. How did Mr. Freeze get involved with The Penguin and become one of Batman’s most notable enemies? “Cold, Cold Heart” has an engaging narrative to explain it, starting with a brutal attack on Wayne Manor that cleverly introduces a world of fire and ice. One minute, you’re navigating a burning mansion, the next you’re dodging the INCREDIBLY annoying Cryogun, which can freeze Batman in place. The narrative takes the player through several brand-new interiors along with some familiar exteriors. Other new tricks include a new suit called the EX Suit, which allows Batman to melt ice, natch, and a thermal batarang. The developers do deserve credit for trying to expand the world of “Origins” for only ten bucks. It’s less than most DLC that plays for a shorter period of time or offers nothing but new maps.
And yet the game has that echo of familiarity that frustrated me last time along with an undeniable series of repetitive passages. I enjoyed the opening chapters in Wayne Manor quite a bit but before I knew it I was outside going through the same-old routine of dropping, gliding, and zip-lining to safety. Enter an area, take out the enemies, move on.
I did wonder during “Cold, Cold Heart” if this kind of adventure isn’t the future of gaming. Everything has become more bite-sized nowadays with MP3s taking over for full albums and episodes of TV supplanting entertainment time that used to be filled by films. Will we someday do most of our gaming in three-hour, ten-dollar chunks? If we do, I hope they’re a little more refined than “Cold, Cold Heart.”